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Ask HN: If you were starting your career today what would you do to get rich?
43 points by bosaad 4 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 64 comments
Hello HN, I’m supposed to answer the above question to a group of HS students and would love to get HN’s collective wisdom.

And just to be precise the point isn’t to expand their horizons or show them other ways to measure success etc, just what to work on to get rich in 2021 as young people seem very confused with the current landscape.


I would see your task differently and more about maximizing _opportunities_ for wealth (and other kinds of fulfillment)

1. Maintain a public presence, including talking about problems you’re working on, open source contributions, blogging, speaking, social media, etc.

2. In (1) and in all interactions make it clear you have great communication and interpersonal skills. Work really hard at this because if you can help investors, managers, etc understand what you want you can go really far.

3. Have humility and a beginners mindset. If someone is smarter/better than you it’s a chance to learn. If you fail, it’s a chance to learn. Listening is a chance to incorporate perspectives and options into an overall better approach AND it comes with buy-in from who you’re listening to if you truly care about their perspective. Also, of course, if you have skills others need, freely give your knowledge away.

4. Pick a valuable niche. This is where the tech/market skill lies. If you can understand something, and combine it with the soft skills above you can go far. And by “understand” I mean in reality you know enough about a very hard problem both add value AND bring a _lot_ of humility about what you _dont_ yet understand. Or perhaps nobody understands.

Other pointers that I think I’d point out:

5. Focus and Finish: instead of starting new ideas, finish the last one. You feel great and you can then maximize whatever opportunities that accomplishment affords you

6. Relationships over wealth: don’t be an Ebenezer Scrooge giving up life’s fulfilling opportunities and relationships to maximize wealth. Take care of people and usually you are taken care of.

7. Go easy on yourself: the key to doing something long term is self forgiveness, taking breaks, sometimes being a slacker. You can’t rely on grit and discipline alone as solutions to getting things done.

Great response! I'm definitely saving it.

What are some good examples of (4) for SWEs? I'm guessing topics like WebRTC, video codec algorithms, compilers?

I kind of stumbled into a problem space I saw lots of my clients struggling with (search relevance) and sensed a market need ~9 years ago and tried to maximize my opportunities in it. You can read the full story here if you’re curious:


Really interesting post but I have few questions for you and I would love to hear from you.

1) How do you transition into consulting for instance how do you market your self and create a personal brand

2) How do you do the research to a pick a niche area and how do you find clients within that niche

I would love to hear your thoughts

I really don't see it as a career choice thing, as much as a disposition thing. If you, for whatever reason, want nothing more than money and don't spend it that much, then you can pick from a set of arbitrary high paying fields, business, or investing strategies, and you'll drain yourself trying to get there because your self-worth is defined by your $$ worth.

I'm a software developer that can hypothetically bring in an above average salary, but the prospect of making that money doesn't trigger an intrinsic drive to do high-stress low-movement logic problems 10 hours a day for arbitrary advertising companies.

So my recommendation would be to watch a lot of Gary Vaynerchuk videos and then define your worth by how much money you have.

(this is only in jest in so much as it's obviously a way to later find that you live a hollow existence, but if you really think about who in your life has got rich by any other means than pure luck, this is probably them)

I would have gotten an art/math degree and minored in CS instead of majoring in it. The better gender ratio and social opportunities probably would have resulted in a stable long term relationship by now. Plus BSCS degrees are pretty shallow (this is an ongoing trend, you can read ACM recommendations on CS curricula to see where it's been and where it's going.) You'll be teaching your self most of the immediately useful things (like git) and a minor usually covers most of the interesting stuff.

There are technologies you think sound boring like Ansible that are a really good thing to learn. Companies like boring technology because it means the workers can spend time working on the product instead of cleaning up messes. I'm glad I learned Linux/vim/git but I wish I had spent a bit of time on deployment automation as well.

I spent way too much time messing around with low level stuff, it doesn't matter as much as you might think. I probably could have completely skipped university if I had given more attention to some of the more abstract ideas (don't try skipping it though, you don't know what you don't know and learning it this way can be painful.)

> better gender ratio and social opportunities probably would have resulted in a stable long term relationship by now.

you don't have to date someone in the same field. you just have to not fall into the monoculture surrounding software. it's tough to break out of, but easier now that WFH is more of an option.

my partner is a nanny, for instance. we met as housemates and fell in love. we're lesbian, though, so I guess that doesn't really address the gender imbalance issue (or maybe makes it 10x worse for me?)

My undergrad major had a 50/50 gender ratio and there were only a handful of romantic relationships to come out of it out of the hundreds of classmates I knew. So, I wouldn't count on finding your S/O in your university program. There are plenty of other opportunities to meet a potential S/O in college, like clubs and house parties.

Having hobbies that aren't computer-based and going to groups and club meetups can help with the relationship thing. I never studied board games or hiking or writing fiction in college but met a lot of people through those meetup groups.

> you can read ACM recommendations on CS curricula

would you be able to point me to this, please?

"Make something people want" and/or develop rare and valuable skills. There are as many problems that people will pay money to solve as there ever has been. Also, the Who's Hiring thread is a testament to the fact that software companies are still talent limited. Perhaps specializing in security would be a good move, since that seems to be a massive ongoing problem. However, ownership is the best bet, so making some rare and valuable thing, out of software, perhaps that solves a security problem in the context of a startup ... that has to be a solid recommendation.

Spend less than you earn. Invest the difference. That's the way to get rich. More income matters some, but what you do with it matters more.

Yep. Too bad very few people figure this out in time. "The Millionaire Next Door" should be required reading in high school.

I feel like this question needs more context - is this a specific group of HS students? A club with shared interests, or an entire class of diverse people? I'd give different answers to a CS club than an entire class. And I'd teach that being rich is only partly about the money you make, and more about being careful with the money you spend. Living within your means, and saving/investing will make you rich in the long run. Higher salaries make it easier to do that, but the discipline of managing your finances has a huge impact over time.

Contra to a popular belief, saving doesn't make you rich. It makes your future more secure though. Of course, you must not spend recklessly (e.g. buy 20 Ferraris or a yatch).

Investing that yields high reward is not saving.

Making money is more important because as you move up the ladder your earning will grow exponentially. Any ladder probably achieves the same impact (e.g. a director earns 10 more times than a senior engineer).

No amount of saving can get you that much money.

If you can move up the ladder quickly (or even slowly), making money will outpace spending.

> director earns 10 more times than a senior engineer.

Where the heck do you work??

I certainly hope OP is communicating ways to be successful and secure, not how to strive to be in the 1%. For most high school students, "rich" means being able to easily pay their bills, have a decent home, and have plenty of disposable income. Only people who are already quite rich define "rich" as having the luxury of choosing whether or not to buy yachts.

At Google, for example, a director can easily earn 3m a year, while a senior engineer earns 300k a year.

A VP can easily earn $10M to $50M a year. At that level, the compensation varies a lot, but it can be 3x-10x from the director level. Stock compensation is really great.

Facebook, Apple, Twitter, Airbnb, Coinbase, Salesforce (maybe), Oracle (maybe), Square (I could name 10 more) would probably offer similar compensation ladder

> I certainly hope OP is communicating ways to be successful and secure, not how to strive to be in the 1%. For most high school students, "rich" means being able to easily pay their bills, have a decent home, and have plenty of disposable income. Only people who are already quite rich define "rich" as having the luxury of choosing whether or not to buy yachts.

Being born as an average citizen in a developed country would probably put you in the top 1% of the world already. Very likely.

If this is the case, what is the point of the question?

Nit: directors (parallel to L8) at Google earn closer to 1m/year, not 3m per year, i.e. 3x what Sr. Engineers (L5) do.

Love that example. Glad I do not spend money recklessly.

I would get into a good trade. You're not going to get rich like Elon Musk, but if you have your own trade business you and your family will basically be set for life:

- A comfortable existence (trades pay enough to live on)

- Don't have to live in megacities if you don't want to (trades are needed in cities of all sizes and won't be subject to outsourcing)

- It's actually possible to reach mastery in a trade without the trade fundamentally shifting every 5 years (unlike the tech industry)

- Similarly, most trades have been around for 50-3000 years, so you don't need to worry about whether your job will exist in a few years

- If you teach your children the trade and/or bring them into the business, they won't need to get a bunch of student loans to get a career

- You get to move around and don't need to stare at glowing rectangles all day

- I've always wanted a nice cargo van.

"Rich" to me is more about lifestyle and peace-of-mind than it is about numbers in a bank account.

If what you really care about is just numbers in a bank account, the "easiest" way is to pick a tech niche (Salesforce, blockchain, SEO, eCommerce, etc.), relentlessly promote yourself all over the place, really ride that niche into the ground, and don't get sick of the problem domain after a few years.

I agree with the trades. When you need a master plumber/electrician to sign off on a $50K permit they have you by the balls.

Can you work really hard? Do you want to save the world? Do medicine.

Median? Probably software. Where I live, a mid-skill software developer makes as much money as a manager in accounting or the owner of a small indie cafe. A software manager in a good (not great) company makes top 10% of income.

High risk, high returns? Software & startups. The risk isn't that bad - in terms of returns/failure ratio, you'd probably make more off a million dollar startup than you would trying to get a job at Netflix. It's just a question of what you enjoy.

What kind of software? In my experience, they all pay as well, unless you do something easy like WordPress or something dumb like Cordova. So just pick something.

Don't like learning new frameworks? Do law. It's the same thing as programming but your frameworks are hundreds of years old.

If you can't hit median, then aim for something you can be the best at. Not top 10%, but best. It can be a mix of skills. Something like busking+omegle+YouTube can pay well.

Medicine is an odd one. You need a bachelors + md + residency + possibly a fellowship to start practicing. Those are all competitive too. The residency will pay but only a little, and 4 years of medical school and living expenses will add up in living costs. So yes, if your parents are wealthy and willing to pay for it or it is the most important thing in life to do then medicine is the way to go.

Or you can go to a boring tech company and save about 50k/year for 10-15 years. This will be enough to achieve financial independence on and it will be possible to retire right when you would be beginning to practice medicine.

This is all only with a bachelors from a state school no extra-curricular or mcat stressing is necessary.

Also Medicine is not 100% and accidentally killing someone can get your license taken away. Done goof and break production you get a talking to and at worst fired but can probably find a new job shortly.

What falls under high-paying, easy, and stable?


If there was some single piece of advice that everyone could follow to be rich everybody, and therefore no body would be rich.

To start with I would probably remind them that to be rich you’ll probably need to do things differently to some extent.

The reason most people aren’t rich isn’t because they’re not smart enough, but because unless you’re lucky enough to be born to a rich family or win the lottery building wealth requires decades of discipline in executing a strategy that will get you there. Most people are not willing to do this but you have to be that person who is. You’ll also find you can’t just copy some playbook. You’re not going to build Amazon because it already exists and you’re not going to invest in TSLA or Bitcoin when it was trading as $20. You need to identify the next big thing before anyone else and have the self belief to stick with it for years while everyone thinks you’re crazy and going to lose everything.

Large amounts of wealth are almost always amassed by finding some method of generating exponential value. It is a common misconception that a good job can make you rich. Linearly trading time for money can give you enough money to have a good life, but rarely will provide a pathway to true wealth.

Building a company or investing in appreciating assets are generally the only two pathways to generate large amounts of wealth. However these both come with high risks and as previously mentioned typically require deferring gratification for years to decades while growing a business or compounding an investment portfolio. And at the end of it all your business could go bankrupt or your investments to zero.

In many cases people don’t want millions of dollars, rather just a good standard of living with job security and money to spend in the present. In this case a good education in a STEM is probably a decent shout, otherwise find something you truly believe will be huge in the future and take your slice early on either by building a business in that niche or investing in one.

As a rule of thumb everyone who's born poor and ends up rich does it in real estate. That's not quite the same as saying everyone who invests in real estate ends up rich but it's a starting point.

Something a lot of real estate people seem to forget is that detached housing isn't the only kind of housing unit and there are plenty of countries where people are very happy with high density structures.

I'm not saying we have a housing bubble but I wouldn't bet against it.

I agree with this on premise. But the US in particular (though Australia and Canada both share quite heavily in this), makes is practically illegal to build non-detached housing, in 99% of the country, once you included zoning requirements, parking minimums, set back requirements, community review boards, bans on multi-unit housing on a plot (so that even a duplex, triplex, etc are illegal even if they otherwise fit with zoning requirements).

The big internet companies pay excellent salaries, so I would propose getting a position there, climbing the corporate ladder, buy a reasonably priced home and build retirement and investment accounts. These companies pay well but it's a trap to addict you to what they can pay you so you can't consider leaving, so avoid lifestyle creep.

Perhaps it's not very exciting but it is reliable.

If I had my time again I might not have gone the startup route but I was lucky so not sad about that. Would I be lucky if I tried again? Perhaps, but probably not.

"paying excellent salaries" is an understatement.

Staying at FB as an engineer from 2012 to now would easily earn you 10m... assuming career growth. There are probably more than 20 companies that can give you the same deal.

That's a generational wealth if you come from a developing country...

You nailed it. I'd add - avoid lifestyle creep, take that 10m and put it into stocks, real estate, startups and crypto. Then just sit back and watch the money flow.

Eh...get rich when? In a year? Two? Ten years? Personally I would scrap the whole question and give them the basics on investing, specifically investing for retirement. Get them thinking about low cost index funds and IRAs. The sooner they start, the quicker they will get to their riches. That's more actionable than any moonshot get rich quick schemes.

Firstly, do not get married or have kids. Until after you are rich. Avoid marriage altogether, if you can. As 1/2 or more your wealth will be taken from you. As over 1/2 of marriages end in divorce. And kids and family defocus you from the goal of being rich. Creating financial burdens and limiting your focus and time.

Secondly, find a mentor or mentors who have succeeded in the industry/sector/field you want to get rich in.

Thirdly, Read the 10 roads to riches, by kenneth fisher. To figure out the road you are suited for.

Good luck. If you live in a first world country. You have so many resources and mentors... to become rich.

In terms of generating pure alpha, quant funds will arguably be dominant through 2030s. 2 Sigma, Man Group, BlackRock, etc. Even main street banks are using Aladdin for portfolio management. Try their community outreach. You may be able to score a direct video chat for your class with one of their mentors. I think what's surprising for students to learn is that you can do a stint in pure science or math, and then naturally transition to financial engineering ;)

Assuming if you aren't in the bay area and lucky in guessing the answer is always going to be finance/ banking. Technology is probably less important than domain.

Crypto/DeFi/Blockchain programming. There is a lot of money to be made there without the need of a job and an annoying boss.

I'm interested in DeFi and have been hearing a lot about it as well but not sure where to get started. What would you suggest?

I think what I did was first try to learn as an investor. To do what most people were doing, which was to take their crypto out of the exchanges like coinbase, binance. So I moved it to the BSC network, which is still binance but I can have my tokens in my own wallet. Then I learnt about how to exchange using BSC network, which is with pancakeswap and similar uniswap clones. Next the hacker mindset started to see the many opportunities that are all there, because it is such a nascent tech but with so much money running through it since the beginning.

hi meiraleal. I've started to learn the ropes on smart contract programming. I'd love to pick your brain over email and understand what's been working for you and how to make contracts that are useful for the wider crypto landscape.

vinny [at] beessip.com

hi ishjoh. Just sent you an email from "alanmeira". Kudos!

Thanks meiraleal, I've responded from a different email address as I use the vinny address publicly just to cut down on spam.

Would you mind elaborating a bit on this? How would you put a plan together to move towards this?

Sure. I have been working with smart contracts for only around 2 weeks, but when I deployed my first contract, many bots bought it. I mean, they really buy it. Enough to pay the contract deploy and have a profit. Some times more. So I have being deploying 3, 4 contracts every day, with some differences in code to get to know better about tokenomics, solidity and what can and cannot be done. In 2 weeks, I made USD5k from learning.

Can you elaborate? Other than trading cryptos, what other ways are there to make money?

Deploy a popular smart contract that scrapes a few tenths of a percent of transactions to you.

can you name an example of a "popular smart contract"?

venus protocol


I didn't comment but I believe there will continue to be a lot of growth in this space. If you can make DEFI/NFTs easily usable to consumers you could make a lot of money. Many unicorns waiting to happen in this space.

Live with my parents, do contracting the whole time in London, keep applying for new jobs all the time, learn tech in demand, invest all the excess money in SP500. Then spend $40 on a pizza for 10000BTC and hold that until April 2021 and sell it all while living in a tax free country.

I'm living with parents for the past year and I think I'm at my wit's end. Want to have my own space/vibe. Although I have saved a lot of cash.

Learn english & programming, get a CS degree, emigrate into the US asap and get a job at FAANG & co.

I don't foresee it stopping being a viable recipe for (Fat)FIRE for at least another decade.

Practice interviewing, get a faang/other elite big tech gig, retire in 10

Find a job where your take-home pay is at least 2x, but preferably 3x or 4x, what you need to spend to live your life. Put that remaining 50% (or 67% or 75% or whatever) into reasonably-aggressive investments. Not YOLO-risky, but not anything too conservative either. Don't actively manage your portfolio; most of your wealth should be in index funds or index ETFs. Work hard at your job, get promoted, actively ask for and negotiate for raises, and switch companies whenever you think your current job won't yield significant pay raises anymore.

This won't make you fabulously rich, but you're likely to be able to retire fairly early this way.

To further optimize, pick a high-salary field like software development, and a subfield that is in high demand and requires specialized skills (ML/AI, for example). In addition to that subfield, get yourself a bunch of generalized knowledge about the field overall so that you can be enough of a jack-of-all-trades such that people value you outside your niche as well. I talk about software because that's an industry I know, but I'm sure there are others.

After you've amassed some cash, look for privately-held companies that have strong revenue and revenue growth, and look like they're going to go public in the next 1-3 years. Try to get large ISO option grants when you join, and exercise about a year's worth immediately (assuming the company offers early exercise) so you don't owe any taxes in the year of exercise. After you hit the standard 1-year vesting cliff, start looking for another company in a similar situation. Do this three, four, maybe five times.

The downside is that, depending on the option strike price and number of options, you need a decent amount of cash for those option exercises, and the stock you buy isn't immediately liquid. There's some risk to this approach, certainly, but there's also potentially high reward, and you've diversified somewhat by putting your eggs in the baskets of several companies. You can also adjust your risk level by only exercising company options up to some percentage of your net worth that you decide meets your risk tolerance.

As these companies go public, start selling off the stock, and put the proceeds into more-diversified investments. Take the emotion out of it; plan to sell some percent of your total every quarter, such that you've sold it all after 2-4 years. Remember that you will owe taxes on the gains. You can invest the money you need for taxes, but keep those in fairly conservative investments. If you expect those investments to earn you a lower rate of return than the tax underpayment penalty in your jurisdiction, pay estimated taxes quarterly (assuming you're in the US).

If you don't like that optimization path, then a pretty "safe" way to get more money is to be amazing at your job and at climbing the career ladder. VP and C-level folks at medium-to-large public companies will tend to make bank, much of it via equity grants. This takes time, though: at best, you'll make VP in your mid-thirties if you're really good.

+1 for this, should work in many cases

Quant or anything that's combo of CS and finance or biology.

Focus more on business side, build connections.

Best way to be rich is to be born rich

Best answer. Just be rich. Or, better yet, don't be poor.

Same thing I did last time: buy Bitcoin & Monero



Can you elaborate on DeFi? I work in a startup and my founder told me the same but I have very vague idea about it and looking to find something that can get me started.

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